For many people, the shift to working remotely in the past year during the coronavirus outbreak has had some clear benefits.
Whether it’s having the freedom to work in their pajamas all day, move to a more affordable area or avoid the stressful rush-hour commute, employees are discovering that working from home has its perks.
To be sure, many employers and staff miss the in-person collaboration and socialization that comes with being in the company office.
Still, as telecommuting appears to be here to stay even after the pandemic ends, businesses are considering whether they need to adapt their benefits program to include perks such as fitness memberships and grocery-delivery stipends for remote workers.
Eve Melon, head of People and Culture at live-chat technology provider Tidio, says her organization understood right away that remote workers want benefits beyond traditional offerings such as health insurance.
Potential cost savings
“One of our employees’ most common requests is about providing them with more learning opportunities — virtual conferences, books or online courses,” Melon said. She said the interaction was much needed because of pandemic-induced isolation.
Tidio, which has about 100 mostly remote employees and two offices, offered telecommuting workers a premium healthcare package with medical teleconsultations, reimbursements for Covid-19 tests and an online exercise program.
The company plans to keep the new benefits that were introduced during the pandemic even after the health crisis subsides, she added.
While such benefits are an added expense for businesses, having partial or full-time remote employees can result in cost savings for some organizations, studies show, which in turn can help companies finance additional perks.
Global Workplace Analytics predicts companies can save $11,000 for every partly remote employee (defined as telecommuting 2.5 days a week). These expense reductions come from lower real estate and operating costs, lower employee turnover and increased productivity, the report says.
In addition, some companies also may see costs savings as remote work opens access to a global talent pool, including those in countries with a lower cost of living.
Some employees also may willingly accept pay cuts to continue working remotely after the pandemic ends and in-office work restarts, studies show, opening the door for additional cost savings.
A 2020 Owl Labs report revealed that 23 percent of full-time workers would take a pay reduction of more than 10 percent in order to work from home at least some of the time.
Still, Eropa Stein, founder and chief executive officer of scheduling software producer Hyre, said offering extra perks to employees can become too expensive if businesses also plan to keep their offices.
“Will companies be able to afford perks and an office expense? Honestly, probably not,” she said.
Stein added that the all-remote employees in her small business have not requested added benefits for working from home and that most people are satisfied with the fact they don’t have a commute, as well as with schedule flexibility.
“We did implement some fun remote-based activities and additional workday flexibility to help with the transition,” Stein said.
Dehan Matthee, human-resources manager for U.K.-based EposNow, a point-of-sale technology provider, also hasn’t seen a demand for added benefits at his company, which has about 500 mostly remote employees globally.
“Currently, we offer the same benefits for all employees, irrespective of an employee being remote or in-person,” said Matthee.
To be sure, many companies aren’t helping employees with basic equipment needed to work from home nor assisting with defraying the costs.
A survey by Nulab State last year found that 57 percent of the more than 850 people working from home it surveyed were not allowed to bring equipment home from their office.
In addition, about 32 percent had to buy their own equipment and 37 percent of respondents were told they would not be reimbursed for expenses related to working from home. Workers spent an average of $194 on remote equipment, according to the poll.
A 2021 survey by Remote Tools of 728 workers found that 49 percent of them want their companies to offer a stipend for expenses related to their home office setup, while only a third of businesses have agreed to extend one.
Be Open on Benefits
Brie Weiler Reynolds, a career development manager and coach at FlexJobs and Remote.co, says companies considering adding extra perks for remote employees should collect data on in-office versus remote team members, as well as on how potential stipends are divided and used.
In addition, businesses also should examine how productivity and revenue are impacted by having a more flexible and remote workforce.
“It’s really important to have good data to support long-term decisions,” she said.
Whatever perks businesses decide to adopt, organizations should be transparent about them, Reynolds says.
“Communicating any differences between office and remote-worker benefits and stipends and the reasoning behind it — at least at a high level — can go a long way toward keeping trust with both groups and preventing any misperceptions or ‘us vs. them’ thinking,” she said.
Sharon Koifman, founder and chief executive officer of Canadian-based remote placement agency DistantJob, says businesses must ensure a level the playing field for office and remote workers.
“Remember, the office people are already uncomfortable with the concept that some of their colleagues work from home,” she said. “Unless you have a flexible working arrangement in your business where people choose where they want to work, the local people should get the same benefits. Otherwise, it could eventually turn into a chaotic working culture.”